Symbols in Literature



hello worthy students and welcome to tonight's podcast on symbols in literature so what is a symbol well quite simply friends a symbol is just a thing that represents another thing so something like a flag that represents a concept like freedom symbols can actually take the form of objects or people or places or actions and they actually end up representing qualities or attitudes beliefs values so if you look at this list symbols are usually concrete objects that actually represent more intangible things like a quality or an attitude here's an example of a symbol the broomstick in wicked for example might represent something like alpha bus' power her rising self-confidence or how she is misunderstood so the concrete object in this case the broom represents an intangible quality like power or confidence now you might be asking well why is it important to be able to see symbols good question here's the answer because it helps us to see the deeper meaning of the text it helps us to understand the sort of thematic or scuba diving deep nests that exists in all literature basically a symbol is a clue that's left by the author that helps us to determine the theme and just in case you forgot the theme is the author's comment on the human condition and then finally it helps us to think critically and creatively which ultimately makes us smarter remember anytime you practice critical thinking regardless of the content of that practice it's like being in a weight room and flexing your brain muscle so at the end of that endeavor regardless of whether you're ever going to read literature for a living or not you are still making yourself smarter by engaging in the activity of trying to find and interpret symbols here is yet another example so the place in wicked Oz for example that place might symbolize some like the corruption of the government it might symbolize the impossibility of a utopian dream it might symbolize the reality that dreams come true only through one's own work and perseverance not through an all-powerful being like the great and powerful wizard of oz okay hopefully I have convinced you that finding symbols is cool so in the event that that has happened what you next want to ask yourself is okay miss J how do I notice those cool symbols great question number one look for the symbol to reappear over and over again if you have an object or a place or a person that reappears over and over again that might give you an indication that it might symbolize something larger or more intangible here's an example in wicked the color of the two witches outfits throughout the play along with frankly their skin color might serve as symbols and those colors might symbolize or represent the idea of society's labeling of what is good and what is evil it might involve the misconception of society and it might go even further and symbolize the layers of complexity that exist in all people in spite of appearances quick example of this gelinda appears at first to be very one-dimensional she is brought on stage as if she was the Good Witch she is dressed all in white everybody loves her but in watching the play develop what you learn is that Glinda is not at all one-dimensional and she is not at all only good even though she continues to wear light colors throughout the play you realized that she actually consists of many more layers a lot more depth she's definitely a three-dimensional character she is dynamic rather than being static even though the clothes they continue to put her in continue to be static colors and that's why you might ask yourself in the end well that symbol doesn't just represent the simplicity of the label but it might also represent then the misconception of society that society labels her good and they failed to see the deeper nature of her and that frankly all of us tend to miss the layers of complexity that exist in all people and so in this way her outfit just like Elphaba's dark outfit and Elphaba's darker skin color represent some of those more complex ideas here's another way to notice symbols look for the symbol to be discussed in detail if something draws your attention to an object that object might be worth investigating so if you're reading a novel and you get to a part that they're describing say the setting and you get kind of bored try to stay focused because the author's never do that for no reason they always do it for a reason and they might be dropping symbols in there and you'll want to be sure to watch for those clues here's an example in wicked the green elixir is a symbol it comes up more than once it's also a plot device frankly it moves the plot forward but it symbolizes some other things it might symbolize the darkness in people's hearts it might symbolize how actions can actually end up hurting others and it might symbolize as it ultimately does for the wizard regret another option in order to notice symbols is to look for a symbol in a title here are a couple of titles of classic literature that involve symbols so to kill a mockingbirds involves the symbol of the Mockingbird and the idea that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird and that symbolizes the idea that it is a sin to mock ridicule or hurt someone who is innocent someone who only brings happiness or joy to other people in 1984 that year 1984 symbolizes kind of a demolition of life as we know it it symbolizes the overthrow of a just government and instead symbolizes totalitarian rule and in the Kite Runner the idea of this person The Kite Runner symbolizes innocence virtue goodness kindness things like that okay so once you have learned how to notice symbols the next step you need to take is the ability to interpret or understand what those symbols represent and here are a couple of ideas for how you can do that number one start by the qualities of the object that is being symbolized for example the broom in wicked well let's think of the qualities of a broom brooms are used to clean or to transform a room from one condition to another brooms and power people to change their surroundings and finally brooms serve as an aid or a support okay so once you've considered the qualities of your symbol the next step is to apply those qualities to the context in which they're being used so it is not enough to say uh brooms clean things you have to then look at how that broom is being used in the context of the story so for example in wicked the broom is used to transform Elphaba from one condition in this case powerless and stuck to another condition which is powerful and free it empowers alphabet to change your surroundings literally physically it allows her to fly out of that room and escape the Wizards clutches and finally it serves as an aide or a support to Elphaba again physically it supports her body and allows her to escape what might be a horrific end once you are done with those two steps the final step is to consider how that symbol illuminates the theme which again is the author's comment on the human condition in this case the broomstick helps to illuminate alpha bus' power it makes Alpha buff is Akira's which might represent her rise in self-confidence and finally you can consider that the contrast between what we know of wicked witches that usually fly around in brooms and what we know of Elphaba forces us to think about the ways in which we misunderstand others based simply on appearances so the broomstick in this case then represents misconception and all of that leads us to the author's comment about how we label others how we judge others and that this is not necessarily good for us or for society as a whole or for the people that we label and that my friends is it so if you remember the ways to notice a symbol and you remember the three steps for interpreting those symbols you are well on your way to recognizing all those clues the author's are dropping and then you are going to be ready my friends to write literary analysis papers that sparkle and shine thanks so much have a great night

11 thoughts on “Symbols in Literature

  1. Study highway deaths and grave yards, the cross represents death.

  2. Good video, but arent you using a play for examples in literature?

  3. This is great. But I'll have to disagree with step one of recognizing symbols because sometimes in a text the symbol only happens once. If I were to give my students the instruction of looking for that particular symbol multiple times, they would skip over so many singular symbolic events. 

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